Can’t Even Dream This Up: Day 3 of Bridgetown

The prize festival packages so often offered on the radio or in promotions that promise an all expense paid, behind-the-scenes, once-in-a-lifetime, in-the-thick-of-it experience usually never live up to any such description.  How good can a week hanging out with Black Eyed Peas honestly be, especially if you can even partially think for yourself?

Though, I, Comedy Bureau Director Jake Kroeger, didn’t win a prize of any sorts, Day 3 at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival certainly surpassed any expectation that winning back stage tickets off the radio could ever promise.

First off, I stumbled into comedians Pete Holmes, Nick Thune, and Jay Larson and had one of the most entertaining breakfasts I can ever remember.  Normally, eating with comedians can be trying as I’ve had the fact that I ordered breakfast at 3AM riffed on like it was some bad improv sketch that will never end.  Yet, sitting and eating at one of Portland’s one of finest dining establishments, Mother’s Bistro, I laughed so hard at Holmes trying to do crowd work while we were waiting to order, Thune trying to figure out loopholes and inconsistencies in the menu pricing, and Larson cleverly commenting the whole time.  It was top notch back and forth banter between all three of them, especially when everyone at the table including Holmes himself was critiquing his riffing and crowd work throughout the meal.  

Even more intriguing than hearing Holmes, who is about to record his CD next month, Thune, whose album Thick Noon was widely praised, and Larson who just recorded his album a few weeks ago at the Hollywood Improv, shoot the shit was hearing about their very first shows.  Some people might think of this as the alt-comedy version of Talking Funny, which is really just a “big name” version of Paul Provenza’s Green Room on Showtime, but it was really remarkable to hear about Holmes just going up and doing a long set for his very first show, which was in private with family and friends, Thune talk about developing his delivery, and Larson talk about how he wrote a brand new 5 minutes every week, doing well right from the start, performing at a club in Boston, and getting up to 45 minutes of material before he realized he should probably start repeating some of it.

This was just breakfast. I hadn’t even gone to a show for the festival yet and the day is already at one of those “good night, then drop the mic” moments.

Later, I walked in late on Victor Varnado’s comedy concert film Tell Your Friends at the Bagdad Theatre that a trailer that surfaced briefly online hyping the movie as an alternative comedy documentary.  Though only getting to see a portion of the film, I found it immensely interesting that in between full performances between Reggie Watts and the duo of Kurt Braunholer and Kristen Schaal, there several interspersed talking head clips of Jim Gaffigan, Marc Maron, and several others in the comedy world, without regard to their status as an alternative or mainstream comic, try to discern what alternative comedy is and who qualifies or doesn’t qualify as an “alt comic”.  

Ultimately, whether any of the interviewees were criticizing alt comedy for bordering too close to performance art or considered to be a part of the movement, everyone sort of agreed that the label “alternative” was pushed on them by the industry and was not self-styled, insisting that they’re just a bunch of people trying to be funny in their own different, unique way.  At one point, Reggie Watts commented that he thinks something he did on stage is really good when someone tells him, “That was so stupid.”  Though no real answer or explanation really came about for Tell Your Friend’s query, I’d definitely see it again.

Staying at the Bagdad Theatre, I caught “This Is Not Happening”, a monthly storytelling showcase back in LA featuring some of the country’s best comedians stripping off whatever stage persona they usually have and telling an honest story based on a theme, which, on this edition, was shame.  At this particular show, there were so many technical difficulties to deal with, it was truly surprising and endearing how the humanity of an audience showed itself.

Starting off, host Ari Shaffir took the stage in complete darkness.  No stage lights were on for a good 7 minutes, but that didn’t matter as about 20 people seated in the vast 500 seat Bagdad Theatre lit Shaffir with their flashlight apps on their smart phones.  Everyone wanted to see comedy that badly.  Once the lights finally lit up, cheers abounded and Shaffir moved onto a story about shame, but was, again, held back by background music continuing to play throughout his set.  Still, people laughed the whole way through because they pretty much invested their entire evening in laughing and weren’t going to be hindered by any sort of technical nightmare.  

Even when comedian Mike Burns took the stage to the sound of an accidentally tripped fire alarm, no one left their seats and Burns riffed off of the incessant buzzing for a big portion of his set to wild applause.  Andy Dick went way over his time and struggled to stay focused on telling his story about shame, which people expected to be “juicy”, but Pete Holmes “brought the heat” just like he did at breakfast and destroyed like nothing that came before him had gone wrong with his hysterical story about visiting a massage parlor in Amsterdam.  Moshe Kasher also had a magnificent set with a story about becoming a man much in the way that “This Is Not Happening” had intended with being honest to the point of being metaphorically naked on stage, relating to the topic, and the tech, lights and sound all, working.  I’m still reveling in how much people were “on board” for whatever happened on the show and how much they wanted to laugh at people’s stories of shame.

A showcase of Last Comic Standing finalists/semi-finalists quickly followed This Is Not Happening at the Bagdad Theatre and showed that live comedy is much better than TV’s recreation of it.  Without any sort of language and extremely rigid time restriction, comedians James Adomian, Jesse Case, and NYC’s Claudia Cogan put any doubts of their comedic skills and talents that were repeatedly cut and repackaged for NBC.

Leaving Bagdad after about five hours worth of show, I walked to the Mt. Tabor Theatre Main Room interviewing James Adomian and the Whitest Kids U Know’s very own Trevor Moore on Bridgetown and Adomian’s rock star status in Portland.  Transcribed interview to follow soon.

Most people after nearing a full work day of being an audience member would take a break or just stop altogether in watching live shows of any sort, but the prospect of seeing Kurt Braunholer and Kristen Schaal’s Hot Tub kept me going.  As a variety show hailing from NYC, Braunholer and Schaal were hilarious from the top of the show with their “Win A Date with Kristen Schaal” game/sketch to when they took their bows along with a stellar line-up of LA based performers (perhaps there comedy wall between NYC and LA is slowing coming down) including Kyle Kinane, Nick Thune, Brett Gelman, Jon Daly, and my third run-in of Pete Holmes.  From Kinane’s stories of calling cabs to go to Wendy’s to Daly’s uproariously absurd character, Drunken English Roller-blading Tree to Gelman doing one of the most “meta” things I’ve ever seen in having an audience member read an “article” written about him in the NY times on stage, Hot Tub proved to be, at the loud resounding laughs of an over-capacity crowd, one of the best shows of Bridgetown.

At this point on this in the evening, I had seen Pete Holmes kill it three times and while walking with him down Hawthorne back to the Bagdad Theatre, I ended up watching him do it again for a fourth time as a drop-in on a show where one audience member had asked if Doug Stanhope was going to perform.  After this year’s Bridgetown is over, there should be no doubts about the comedy of Pete Holmes.  As one woman told me after seeing Holmes at Comedy Death Ray Live in LA, Pete does some beautiful stand up.

This concludes Day 3 at Bridgetown, which, in reflecting back on it is something that couldn’t be even dreamed up.  One more day left here before the LA comedy scene goes back home and I’m feeling legitimately like a kid, strangely enough, for the first time.  I hope Portland appreciates this fact and/or the festival in the same way.